News Tip: Sanford Expert on Addressing Root Causes of Migration From Central America

 June 7, 2021

The drivers of migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras include a complex mix of poor governance, corruption, lack of economic opportunity, violence, food insecurity exacerbated by climate change and a desire for family reunification. These have been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and two category four hurricanes that caused widespread destruction in November.

President Joe Biden has pledged to spend $4 billion in Central America to address the root causes of migration. This week, Vice President Kamala Harris is traveling to Guatemala and Mexico to discuss the root causes of migration from Central America and U.S. policy options. The comments below from Sarah Bermeo, an associate professor of public policy and political science at Duke University, are available to use in your coverage.

Quotes :
“Violence, corruption, climate change and lack of economic opportunity have created a situation of forced migration from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. In many cases, people feel compelled to flee the region; migration has become the only option for a viable future,” says Sarah Bermeo, an associate professor of public policy and political science at Duke University who has conducted research in this area.

“People have lost what advocates call the ‘right not to migrate’ – that is, the right to a sustainable future in their homeland. When people feel safer and more food secure, and have confidence in their governments to function effectively and fairly, the level of migration will decrease.”

“The Biden administration has pledged $4 billion in aid to Central America to address the root causes of migration. The U.S. has already spent billions of dollars in the region and the situation has continued to deteriorate. A new approach is necessary. An effective strategy would include:

  • Working directly with local community groups and less with U.S. based contractors. Local groups provide insights into the situation on the ground and can help with policy planning and implementation, increasing buy-in from the community. Community involvement also helps build local governance capacity in countries where national governance is fraught with corruption.
  • Emphasizing improvements in food security, particularly in the Dry Corridor that extends through these countries. Climate change and outdated agricultural practices have led to multiple years of crop failure and extreme food insecurity, propelling migration. Proper investment and advice can turn the tide. Expert knowledge exists, but it requires working with the local communities and scaling up assistance – which can be achieved with foreign aid.
  • Thinking creatively about solutions to gang violence, a key driver of migration. Forceful responses and criminalization have been ineffective. Exploring peace-building policies that de-criminalize gangs and find ways to integrate them into the social fabric of the countries could decrease violence, a tactic that has been successfully pursued elsewhere.
  • Creating job opportunities through grants to small- and medium-sized locally run organizations and businesses. Lack of funds limits entrepreneurial endeavors that can provide job opportunities and economic growth in these countries.
  • Coupling foreign assistance with strong diplomatic pressure to decrease corruption in governments and security forces, including the re-establishment of externally run anti-corruption bodies.”

Sarah Bermeo, associate professor of public policy and political science at Duke University, researches relations between industrialized and developing nations, foreign aid, trade agreements and climate migration. She is the author of  “Targeted Development: Industrialized Country Strategy in a Globalizing World.” Read her policy brief here.

For additional comment, contact Sarah Bermeo at or via direct message on Twitter @SarahBBermeo

Media Contacts:
Kirsten Khire

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